I thoroughly enjoyed the world premiere of Jesus the Jew: As Told by His Brother James. The play is the seventeenth work produced by Forum Productions. The one-man show by playwright William Spatz is very well-written and in my opinion contains some of the answers of the most important issues facing our society today with regards to antisemitism and the violence propagated against Christians and or Jewish Christians in this country and others around the world.
Actor, Steven Strafford plays a modern-day professor of religious history who has just found out his brother John has been tortured and killed in an attack in Syria. He then travels back and forth in time to portray James, the brother of Jesus, one of the mainstays of his research. Strafford's performance is compelling and rich.
Jeremy, as James thanks the audience for coming whether they are Jews, Christians or Jewish Christians. This designation is very important especially in the political climate currently where all three groups are regularly singled out in some countries and sentenced to death by beheading if they do not renounce their Christian and/or Jewish ties.
This play is of particular interest to me because I am a Jewish Christian or Messianic Jew. That is a person who is Jewish by birth who continues to believe that Jesus was Jewish and was the Messiah sent to save the Jewish people and later the non-Jews from the belief that we are just helpless animal-like human beings in bodies which have no actual active spiritual life that continues after death of the human body. We also believe that God is a loving forgiving being that abhors killing of humans and animals, indeed cruelty to women and all living things.
I was given a very complete three-year education in Jewish history and religious practices before completing my bat mitzvah and the only mention of Jesus, if any that I recall, was that Jesus was to be looked at as a Rabbi gone mad - a religious traitor to the Jewish people whose new ideas threatened to destroy Judaism rather than elevate it to new levels of generosity and higher spiritual intelligence. I have often wondered how the separation of Jesus' Jewish birth and the statement he made regarding incarnating in a human body specifically for the Jewish people turned into an entirely new religion called Christianity – a religion that proceeded to make a scapegoat of the Jews when Roman occupation and laws actually caused the killing of Jesus. I've also wondered how Christians and especially Catholics who - on the one hand - give great honor to Mary, Jesus' mother, seem to have completely forgotten the fact that Mary the Mother of God was a JEWISH woman named Miriam. And how can modern Christians continue to refer with reverence to the Gospels written by Jesus' disciples as inspired by God without recalling that ALL the disciples of Jesus were JEWISH?
James’ finally answers this question in the last hours of his life in the play when he is about to be put to death (after 30 years of leading Jewish Christians) for not renouncing his brother's and his own Jewish faith.
The apostle Paul is well known among feminists for his damning letters stating that women should have no place in the new Church and should be subject to all the discrimination that Jesus himself stressed many times should end by interacting with women, healing them and insisting that they receive the same education his male apostles were receiving. During this council, the apostle Paul effectively overthrew James’ leadership by declaring a new law that if a Jewish person believed in Jesus they must stop all Jewish religious practices and laws or be sentenced to death.
Jeremy as James also made it clear that Mary was from a wealthy family and financially supported Jesus and, by extension, financially supported many of the apostles that followed Jesus. Mary Magdalene was NOT by any stretch of the sexist imagination a "prostitute" as many since have claimed.
James states that Jesus and Mary were indeed married per the Jewish tradition and although it was not brought up in this play, their marriage gives some credence to the theory that Mary Magdalene, Jesus' legal wife, gave birth to a daughter after his death, directly continuing the spiritually royal bloodline of Jesus himself. It’s been said that she and her daughter were escorted to safety by her father and sailed to France to raise her daughter.
There is some humor in the play when James says, “Lots of Jewish mothers think their sons can walk on water, but in this case…”
The production team includes: Milo Blue (scenic design), Hailey Rakowiecki (costume design), David Trudeau (lighting design), Alex Kleiner (sound design), Ron Rude (production manager) and Sarah Knoke (stage manager). This team does a great job decorating the set with objects of art from both modern and ancient times. The interesting props keep one’s eyes busy looking at the beautiful colorful aspects of that historic period while keeping the audience firmly in the present with offstage interruptions by reporters seeking interviews with him and friends or family who are trying to help Jeremy stay calm and sane in the face of the news that his brother has been tortured first then killed.
Jesus The Jew delivers the most important message of our time, that the division of Jews from Christians and the division of Jesus from his own Jewish followers and people came from a political move - a political document written to serve the Romans and the ambitions of one aggressive sect of new Christians/Jews led by the apostle Paul.
My only complaint about the well-written and well-documented play is that it does not delve deep enough into the horrors and centuries of suffering that this rift initiated by the apostle Paul caused. Actually using the word “horror” is inadequate to describe the current situation for both Christians and Jewish Christians - the Holocaust or recent be-headings of Christians and Jewish Christians around the world and the suffering of women subject to the new rules of Bible thumping-Jew hating Christians who have been forced to follow their husband’s commands even under extreme abuse.
James even acknowledges that as he gives his last sermon before he is put to death that there may not be any Jewish Christians left to hear his final pleas for a meaningful, literal and political reunion of the Jewish and Christian people. That strongly resonated with me because I am the ONLY Jewish Christian that I have ever met (other than my mother who had a similar late life realization) who sees Jesus as a Jewish Rabbi and miracle maker of the highest order, the human incarnation of God on earth.
I highly recommend this compelling, well-paced and delicately handled theater piece for anyone who is interested in a more realistic view of daily life during Jesus' time, or is seeking similar comfort that Jewish Christians still actually exist.
Jesus the Jew: As Told by his Brother James is being performed at Greenhouse Theater Center through March 26th. For more information on this show, click here.
Forum Productions is pleased to present the world premiere one-man show JESUS THE JEW As Told By His Brother James, written by William Spatz, directed by Will Rogers and featuring Steven Strafford. A modern drama interwoven with the biblical tale of Jesus of Nazareth and his brother James, JESUS THE JEW will play February 17 – March 26, 2017 at Greenhouse Theater Center (Downstairs Mainstage), 2257 N. Lincoln Ave. in Chicago. Tickets are currently available at greenhousetheater.org, in person at the box office or by calling (773) 404-7336.
Jeremy, a biblical history professor, faced with crippling fear and guilt, is mourning the tragic loss of his brother. Struggling to make sense of the present, he reaches into the ancient past to find answers – and imagines himself as James.
James is given a choice: renounce his brother or be killed. The problem: his brother is Jesus of Nazareth and James is the leader of all of Jesus’ followers for 30 years since the resurrection. Based on a wealth of research, JESUS THE JEW takes us back to the birth of Christianity and the transformation of Judaism, with two Jewish brothers and their four siblings growing up in Nazareth. Through memory and storytelling, James reveals his insights into Mary of Magdala, his archrival Apostle Paul and his misunderstood brother, as he faces the ultimate decision and his greatest test of faith.
James’ faith could lead to his death. Jeremy’s faith could save his life.
The production team includes: Milo Blue (scenic design), Hailey Rakowiecki (costume design), David Trudeau (lighting design), Alex Kleiner (sound design), Ron Rude (production manager) and Sarah Knoke (stage manager).
Title: JESUS THE JEW As Told By His Brother James
Playwright: William Spatz
Director: Will Rogers
Featuring: Steven Strafford
Location The Greenhouse Theater Center (Downstairs Mainstage), 2257 N. Lincoln Ave, Chicago
Dates: Previews: Friday, February 17 at 7:30 pm, Saturday, February 18 at 2:30 pm & 7:30 pm, Sunday, February 19 at 2:30 pm and Wednesday, February 16 at 7:30 pm
Press Performance: Wednesday, February 22 at 7:30 pm
Regular run: Thursday, February 23 – Sunday, March 26, 2017
Curtain times: Wednesday at 7:30 pm, Thursday at 7:30 pm, Fridays at 7:30 pm, Saturdays at 2:30 pm & 7:30 pm, Sundays at 2:30 pm
Tickets: Previews: $20. Regular run: $30 - $35. Tickets are currently available at greenhousetheater.org, in person at the box office or by calling (773) 404-7336.
About The Artists
William (Bill) Spatz (Playwright) is a playwright, philanthropist and real estate developer in Chicago. As president of the board for the Greenhouse Theater Center, Bill has overseen the remodeling and expansion of the Greenhouse, which has for over 40 years served as an artistic home for Chicago theater companies, including the Body Politic, Victory Gardens and Remy Bumppo. Bill is the President of the Bill and Wendy Spatz Charitable Foundation. When not producing theater, Bill spends his time engrossed in historical research, traveling with his wife Wendy and supporting Chicago theater companies.
Will Rogers (Director) is a creative producer and director who focuses on the development of interdisciplinary work. Most recently, Will’s work centers on the collision of culinary and performing arts as Artistic Director of Plateful Company. With Plateful collaborators Alex Kliner and Sarah Beth Tanner, Will has developed the dinner party musical A Place Called Plenty, the musical cooking show Biscuit Broads and several other in-home events. Will worked as Associate Producer for Chicago’s Victory Gardens Theater for seven years, during which time he also served as Casting Director as well as curator of the alternative programming series, Fresh Squeezed. As a director, his work has been seen at Ragdale, Victory Gardens, Hell in a Handbag Productions, Chicago Dramatists, 16th Street Theater, Pavement Group, Savage Vanguard Theater (Austin) and the Dublin Gay Theatre Festival, among others. Will has been on the faculty of Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts Camp in Steamboat Springs, Colorado and is the creator of Mixtape, a showcase of new musical theater. He is an alum of the Lincoln Center Directors Lab and a graduate of Savannah College of Art and Design. Will is excited to return to the Ragdale High School Intensive for a second year.
Steven Strafford (Performer) was most recently seen as Chick Clark in Wonderful Town at The Goodman last fall. He has toured in Spamalot, Peter Pan, Cinderella and Grease. In Chicago, he was also seen as Jesus and Stephen Hawking in End Days. He has performed regionally at Sacramento Music Circus, Cape Playhouse, Portland Stage Company, Cardinal Stage and many others. His one man show, Methtacular! was nominated for a Jeff Award in 2014. It has had productions here in Chicago, NYC, Maine, California and most recently a two-night stint at Steppenwolf’s 1700 Theatre. His new play, Small Jokes About Monsters, is in development and production around the country.
Forum Productions (Producer) has produced or co-produced 17 plays since its founding in 2014. Previous productions include the highly-acclaimed Churchill (Producer: Chicago, 2014; Producer: Off-Broadway, 2015) and the Greenhouse Theater Center's much-lauded Solo Celebration! Series (Producer), which concludes in February of 2017. In 2017 and 2018, Forum productions will be producing a series of solo performances in Florida, as well as continuing to produce in Chicago.
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